The autonomous car 2015: Risks and opportunities for the re/insurance industry

Autonomous cars – or new forms of mobility – are regarded as a highly disruptive technology, with significant implications for the re/insurance industry. As such, the topic appeared on the radar of our emerging risk specialists a few years ago, and we first drew attention to it with a special feature in our 2013 Corporate Responsibility Report. In 2014, our Centre for Global Dialogue held a two-day conference in Switzerland and, in 2015, followed this up with a one-day event at our Armonk office in the US, bringing together experts from car manufacturing and technology, safety and legal specialists.

The momentum around self-driving vehicles is astonishing. Whether we are fully prepared for them or not, autonomous cars have arrived. Almost all major carmakers are currently testing first-generation prototypes, while Google already has semi- and fully autonomous cars on the roads in California. When they start to appear in larger numbers on our roads, this will present many new challenges to the way we do business and how we view and manage risk, retail insurance and liability.

The conference in Armonk offered the following key takeaways: 1. Autonomous cars will improve safety; 2. The sharing economy will drive autonomous car adoption; 3. They are more climate-friendly and can reduce energy reliance; 4. Consumers will begin to embrace the technology; 5. Regulation and the law will adapt, slowly; 6. Cyber risk will increase; and 7. Autonomous cars will affect liability and tort cases. Although it is uncertain how legal and regulatory issues will play out, it is clear that our role as re/insurers will change considerably. Many of these changes will also create new opportunities for businesses who quickly adapt and diversify their products and services so as to target new market segments.